The Sail & Steam Navy List - All the Ships of the Royal Navy 1815-1889
By David Lyon and Rif Winfield. Published by Chatham Publishing, Park House, 1 Russell Gardens, London, NW11 9NN in association with The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. ISBN 1 86176032 9. Price £60.00
Many will remember the late David Lyon who was tragically taken from us shortly after the publication of his hugely important work The Sailing Navy List. That book stopped at 1815, and at the time of his death in 2000 David Lyon was working on the sequel, which covered the important period of transition from sail to steam powered vessels. Rif Winfield who had collaborated with David took on the huge task of completing the book which is now available. Rif is well known as an authority on historic warships and was the author of The 50-gun Ship amongst other publications.
The hardback book 29 x 24cms., in size, runs to 352 pages in two-column layout, being profusely illustrated with principally copies of plans from the NMM collection, together with photographic illustrations of many of the vessels. Each vessel is described in detail, with dimensions, armament, construction, the machinery, the crewing requirements and any specific alterations such as lengthening, replacement of engines and a brief synopsis of the vessel’s history.
As a foreword, Andrew Lambert has contributed an excellent overview of the administrative, political and international background to the period that sets the scene on which the subject matter relates. There then follows a short section covering the technological developments, particularly in armaments where the breech-loading gun was introduced from about 1881, replacing the older muzzle loaders; to the use of the quick-firing gun. Shipbuilding materials changed from wood, though iron to steel, and propulsion from sail to the triple expansion engine. The entire face of the Royal Navy was altered forever by the end of this period.
The first chapter details those sailing vessels that were still in service as at 22 June 1815, the time when the series of Napoleonic Wars finally came to an end, and sets the scene for the later Navy. The book is then divided into two parts: Part one dealing with the period to 1863 which saw such huge changes and deals with the principle naval designers, Seppings, Symonds, and Walker & Watts, taking us though the transition from those sailing vessels which were added to the Navy after 1815, through the era of wooden and later iron paddle steamers, to the introduction of the screw propeller and the construction of initially wooden and later iron screw vessels.
Part 2 deals with the later designers, Reed, Barnaby and White, which saw the introduction of screw ironclads, and later the ships constructed of steel and the introduction of the ‘modern’ classes of cruisers, frigates, corvettes and later torpedo craft from which evolved the destroyer. Whilst this may not be a book to read from cover to cover, it is certainly a book to discover the changes in thinking which were applied to the Royal Navy as the pattern of duties changed and armaments improved to face the alteration in the balance of power between nations. The period saw the high spot of the Royal Navy when it went unchallenged throughout the World and brings us to the period when the designers thoughts as at 1889 still had a profound influence upon the shape of the Royal Navy as at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
The book concludes with the fleet list as at 1st. January 1889 and a copy of the 1889 Naval Defence Act. A fascinating section also deals with those warships, which were constructed for export as with our reputation, foreign governments came to Britain for the specialist knowledge in constructing some very advanced warships during the period from about 1840 onwards. We then have sections covering the Harbour craft from 1864 and coastguard vessels to 1889, showing where these were stationed and again looking at the sail to steam transition for that service.
Rif Winfield has done a great service in carrying on where David Lyon left off and has produced a book which will be the reference book to be referred to for this period in the Royal Navy’s history. I do very much hope that Rif will continue his work and produce a further sequel to the same standard perhaps covering the period from 1890 to 1939.
Reviewed by D.B. Clement
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